Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
"Taking the pulse of the Church"
by Bishop Blase J. Cupich
(From the November 21, 2013 edition of the Inland Register)
In what is nothing less than a major historic development, Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, has written to the world’s bishops on behalf of Pope Francis, calling for a wide consultation in preparation of the Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, scheduled for October 2014. He explained that there is a two-stage process. At the 2014 Extraordinary Assembly, the Synod will identify pastoral issues related to marriage and family life in the context of evangelization – that is, knowing and living out the Gospel. In 2015, the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod will address how to respond to the challenges identified.
In the past, bishops were invited to share their personal views on the topic to be discussed at the Synod. But, given the nature of the topic, The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization, the Holy Father is asking for a wider consultation this time, one which involves parishes, in order to be in touch with the lived experience of people to first identify what those challenges are. In a word, Pope Francis wants bishops to take the pulse of their local Churches on this important issue.
After receiving this request through our Bishops’ Conference (USCCB) on Oct. 30, I consulted our Presbyteral Council on how best we should respond to the Holy Father’s invitation. The circumstances are all the more complicated by the fact that I need to have my response into the USCCB by Dec. 31. That means the responses from the parishes will need to reach my office no later mid-December.
Thus, I want to outline here the process for our response as a diocese. The heart of the plan involves using the parish leadership structure already in place.
1. Each pastor, with the collaboration of his parish leadership, is asked to consider establishing guidelines for how the parish will participate and gather information from their parishioners on the topics addressed in the Preparatory Document and the Questionnaire, which we received from the Synod office in Rome. Those documents can be found beginning on page 7 of this issue of the Inland Register, in both English and Spanish, and are posted on our diocesan web site (www.dioceseofspokane.org). I have asked the pastors to inform their parishioners how they will be given an opportunity to participate in this process. The pastors have been asked to provide me a summary of the parish consultations. These reports are due Dec. 20, 2013.
Again, given the brief time we have and the limited human resources, I ask that no individual reply to me or the diocese directly, but instead work through their parish or Church-related organization. I will not be able to include in my report or respond to information sent to me by individuals. Thank you for your understanding.
Please keep in mind that the goal for this first stage of the synod process is to identify challenges related to living out the Gospel in marriages and family life. It is not about offering suggested solutions or criticizing present policies, and surely it is not about voting on what policies the Church should keep or change. The Holy Father wants us to provide the lived experience of people and the challenges they face. This is in keeping with his counsel to ordained leaders that they have to work so closely with those they shepherd that they “know the smell of the sheep.”
Thank you for your help in this effort. I look forward to working with the parishes and other groups in the weeks ahead. We do have a short time frame but I do want to make an honest effort to provide people with an opportunity to respond to the Holy Father’s historic invitation and I believe, given the limitations we face, the process outlined here is workable as we take the pulse of the Church.
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